UNION COUNTY — A successful industrial recruitment program requires a workforce that meets the needs of industry and that means having an educational system that the provides necessary education and training to produce such a workforce according to the Union County Development Board Executive Director Kathy Jo Lancaster.
Earlier this year, Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker resigned to take a position with Lockhart Power. As her successor as Executive Director, the board selected Kathy Jo Lancaster who at the time was serving as Campus Director for the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College.
In appointing Lancaster, the board cited her experience at the Union Campus of SCC where she was responsible for “providing vision and leadership for the development of the center’s credit and non-credit programs, developing partnerships and linkages with business and industry, and leading dual enrollment activities with Union County Schools. In addition, she was responsible for implementing workforce education programs addressing the needs of local businesses and industries.”
The board also pointed to Lancaster’s service “on the Union County Development Board since 2011 and in that capacity she was involved in selling Union County and its assets to industrial prospects. In addition, she has been active in creating workforce development strategies, working with the business community to identify talent needs, and aligning activities and resources to strengthen Union County’s skilled labor pool.”
While she now works for the Development Board, Lancaster is still emphasizing the need for the close coordination between the educational system and the business community to facilitate economic growth and industrial development.
“I think it’s all related, education and workforce development,” Lancaster said. “I’ve spend most of my career working in education and with workforce development and you really cannot be successful in economic development without the workforce in place. You cannot have the workforce in place without the necessary educational and training options.”
Lancaster said the workforce and the educational system needed to train it are among the first questions asked by prospective industries about a community they are considering locating in.
“When we talk to prospects and site selectors they ask, first, ‘Have you got any buildings?’” Lancaster said. “Second, they ask, ‘Tell us about your workforce.’ Third, they ask, ‘What type of training programs do you have in place?’”
Lancaster pointed out that “our colleges and especially our technical colleges primary mission is to educate our residents and supply our trained workers. This is crucial in the manufacturing industry.”
In carrying out that mission, technical or community colleges like the Union Campus of SCC make a tremendous contribution to the economy.
“Over the last two years the community college system nationwide has contributed over $804 billion in added income to the US economy,” Lancaster said. “This is your highly skilled and highly trained worker we are generating through our community colleges.”
Lancaster said she feels her experience at the Union Campus of SCC has prepared her for her role as Executive Director of the Development Board by giving her insights into what industry wants in the way of the workforce in Union County and the educational system that provides them with the workforce they are seeking.
“Their preference will be technical training, technical degrees,” Lancaster said. “They are looking for someone who is highly skilled to run their processes. Mechatronics, industrial maintenance, any area in automated manufacturing, are what our companies, especially our manufacturers, are looking for.”
During her tenure at the Union Campus of SCC, Lancaster helped implement apprenticeship programs that provided students with the opportunity to work at local industries as part of their studies. This gave the students real world work experience and often lead to them being hired to work by those companies upon graduation. It gave those companies the opportunity to train and develop the kind of workers they are looking for in conjunction with the education system that was also providing them with the necessary training they needed.
The experience and success of those apprenticeship programs during her tenure at the Union Campus of SCC has made Lancaster a believer in such programs, a belief she has carried over to the Office of Development Board Executive Director.
“I am an advocate of the apprenticeship programs because it gives our industries the opportunity to grow their own workforce,” Lancaster said. “The way they do that is they (the students/apprentices) spend time in the plants learning the processes and then they also spend time in the classroom working toward their technical degree or certificate.”
For the future, Lancaster said she wants to see apprenticeship programs in the county continue to grow and expand, involving more students and more industries and becoming an integral and interconnected part of the community. She described this as “all-inclusive development. It is not specific to one area, it must be integrated into all areas of the community if is to be done well and effectively.”
That integration into all areas means that the kind of education and training needed to produce the kind of workforce that will make Union County attractive to industry has to begin long before students graduate from high school.
“From our middle schools through the high school career center to our community college and university and then to work,” Lancaster said. “That’s part of our plan, developing the talent pipeline. So we promote activities with our middle schools, with our career center, our community college and university. Dual credit courses play a major role in this pipeline and they are already being used and continue to be used.”
Lancaster pointed out that this pipeline will be crucial to meeting the needs of industries which are losing trained and experienced workers as the Baby Boom generation retires. She added that it will also be crucial because of the growth of the manufacturing sector in Union County and the rest of the Upstate.
“The next five to ten years will see a dire need for trained workers to fill the jobs coming open because of the aging of the existing workforce and a booming manufacturing sector,” Lancaster said. “Developing our talent pipeline and producing a workforce trained to fill the jobs created by retirement and by the growth of manufacturing will make us even more attractive to industry.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.